Another seasonal blast from the past
Trying to think of something different for Christmas? Are you groaning ‘Bloody hell, not turkey again?’ Here’s a list of things that might add a bit of variety and make your neighbours green with envy. Or possibly just green
I’ve travelled about a bit, been to some 37 different countries (and one Protectorate), and eaten some pretty odd things. I’m not a fussy eater, and will have a go at most things. However, firstly there’s a list some things I will not touch because they’re morally repugnant. Then some I won’t eat because I simply don’t like them; you might though.
Finally some oddities I’ve eaten that don’t on the face of it sound too good. Some of them aren’t but at least I had a go.
And one thing you won’t want to touch with a ten foot pole.
Bon appetit, mes petits choux fleurs.
Things I won’t eat because they’re morally repugnant
Calves’ brains. Because they mainly come from veal calves. It’s a bit of a loss to be honest, because before I realised this I rather liked them. They taste like sweetbreads. The texture is a bit dodgy, something like meaty toothpaste, so best eaten with some really crunchy vegetables such as barely cooked cauliflower. But you won’t be eating them anyway, probably.
The small songbirds that you can get on the continent during the season. Sorry, just wrong.
I’m not sure about caviar. Do they eat the fish as well, which is OK, or chuck the fish away when they’ve taken the roe? Academic, really. See below.
Things I won’t eat because I simply don’t like them
Cucumber. Seems an odd one for top of the list, but I hate the stuff. It tastes of very little but makes everything else taste of cucumber. One of the most intrusive bland tastes you can think of. I won’t even eat it in duck pancakes.
Oysters. Someone once said ‘It was a brave man who first ate an oyster.’ They got that right. Horrible, like a blob of Vaseline in seawater. Yuck. But at least I tried.
Beetroot. An abomination. You may think it’s the food of the gods. You’re misguided.
Caviar/lumpfish roe. Like eating fishy ball bearings.
Fish roes in general. Taramasalata is just about OK, but soft roes and hard roes? Our survey said ‘Uh Urrr.’
Jellied eels. I made the mistake of trying these once. Once was enough. Vile, like fishy snot with soft bones in. Just say no.
Tripe. It’s not horrible, just very very boring.
Salmon. I just don’t like it. And smoked salmon? Oh no, not for me, thank you very much. I’m not mad about trout, either.
Okra. What a waste of time that is. Unless you meet my mate Alex, who runs a boat trip business in India. He does a prawn and okra curry that is quite possibly one of the finest dishes I have ever eaten. Sublime. But otherwise, no thanks.
Durian. This fruit was in high season when I was in Malaysia, where it isregarded as a delicacy. It isn’t. Firstly the smell is… well modesty forbids me to tell you what it smells like. Let’s just say it’s regarded as an aphrodisiac because of its smell, and leave it at that. Tastes like a damp dishcloth after two days of not being wrung out.
Things I’ve eaten that you may not have, and in some cases may disapprove of
Ants. I’ve tried them live (a bit disconcerting) ,and they have a rather spicy peppery taste. I’ve also eaten them coated in chocolate. I know I bang on about not liking choccy, but I couldn’t refuse. They’re pretty good, with a texture like chocolate coated raisins. Not bad at all.
Snake. Hey, I was in China, all right? Not bad at all. Looks like eel (which I do like as long as it’s not jellied), and tastes like chicken. A little story as a humorous aside. I once had dinner with a woman who was a keen herpetologist. This surprised me, as I’d thought she was a general practitioner, but there you go. Anyway, she was remarkably dedicated to her pet snakes. Once during a lenghty power cut, so she told me, she’d kept two of the things warm by putting them down her cleavage. Now had I not been married at the time, I’d have been quite interested in warming myself up in her cleavage, but I went off the idea a bit.
Chicken gizzards. You may well have eaten chicken livers, but gizzards? Maybe not. Small roadside stalls in Thailand sell these barbecued on skewers. Chewy but a very interesting flavour
Chicken hearts. As above.
Thompson’s gazelle. Some may put these into morally repugnant, since they’re all doe eyes and grace, but in East Africa, out in the sticks, there are bloody thousands of them. They’re good too, a bit like venison. And they sure are free range.
Reindeer. Tastes like venison, and is very lean. Really very good indeed.
Alligator. Nobody gets dewy eyed about these, do they? It’s really good, a bit like chicken.
Ostrich. Definitely free range. You can’t imagine building a battery farm for those suckers. It would need to be the size of one of those buildings NASA use to assemble rocket boosters. Tastes like chicken.
Horse. This may raise a few hackles, but I don’t see what’s wrong with it. Horses live a pretty good life, well fed, groomed, exercised regularly. I don’t see why it’s better to send them to a pet food and glue factory when they die than to eat them. If you eat beef or lamb/mutton, which are both derived from animals that convert grass into protein, where’s the difference? Horsemeat is very lean too. A bit like venison.
Giant panda. THAT WAS A JOKE!
Whole baby duckling. We caught a restaurant in China where this was a delicacy, and they’d have been mighty offended if we’d refused. It’s baby duckling plucked and drawn, then coated in hoisin and deep fried. They’re a bit daunting to look at, since when I say whole I mean whole. They come still equipped with beaks and webbed feet. Absolutely delicious, but very messy to eat.
Duck webs. You can get these in most Chinatowns in the UK. Chewy. Only had them once, and decided I couldn’t be bothered, but at least I had a go.
Shark. A guy running a very small beach restaurant in India went out to catch this as a special treat for my wife and me on our last night where were. We couldn’t refuse, could we? It was really good, firm textured, surprisingly white flesh.
Rojak. Another Malaysian special, and well worth trying. It’s chunks of fresh pineapple, papaya, and firm fleshed melon (not watermelon), which you chill then cover with a hot shrimp paste and chilli sauce much like that you might find covering chicken satay. It sounds as weird as all get out, but it’s fab.
Cat/dog. I’m not sure about this, but my local curry house was busted a few years ago for using cat meat. And I’ve been to some out of the way places in Thailand and China, and Malaysia for that matter so anything’s possible. If I have, no complaints about it, but who knows?
If you’re under 50 years old, you won’t have heard of the next four items. When I was a child, these were very popular because they were cheap and nutritious.
Pig’s trotters. Absolutely delicious. You can still get these in some swanky Italian restaurants, where they cost the earth, for some reason.
Pig’s cheeks. Yummy.
Brawn. I haven’t seen this for years. Basically you take a pig’s head and boil it up, hoik out the bones, and let it set into a meaty jelly. It’s good though. Especially on toast.
Elder. I haven’t seen this for years and years either. It’s the lining from cows’ udders. Eeuw! It’s not eeuw, just dull.
Things you will not want to eat however much it would impress people
Aeroplane. Michel Lotito once ate, among other things, an entire Cessna 150 light aircraft. Personally I’d have a conceptual problem with eating a joystick. Maybe it’s just me.
Among the other things? A shopping cart, and a bed.